A pint-sized Northern Pygmy-Owl, not much bigger than a pine cone, hoots from a tree-top on a winter morning. Before long, this diurnal owl - a determined predator of small birds and mammals - will attract a mob of a dozen or more small birds. Mobbing may be a collective response to danger. But it's not certain if the "mobbers" hope to drive away the predator, or simply draw attention to the threat.
An Owl Is Mobbed
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote![Northern Pygmy-Owl tooting]
A pint-sized Northern Pygmy-Owl, not much bigger than a pine cone, hoots from a Northwest tree-top on a winter morning. Before long, this rufous-brown diurnal owl – a determined predator of small birds and mammals – attracts a crowd.[Pygmy-Owl plus scolding calls of robins, chickadees, and nuthatches]
Aggravated and scolding like mad, a dozen or more small birds dart back and forth, above and below the owl. Chickadees, kinglets, nuthatches, and a Downy Woodpecker all join the fracas. The owl appears stoic, seeming to ignore this tumultuous rally that ornithologists call “mobbing”. [Mobbing emphasized]
You might wonder: Why would birds that this aggressive owl regularly eats dare to risk themselves by coming within inches of the predator’s talons?
Scientists believe mobbing to be a collective response to danger. But it’s not certain if the “mobbers” hope to drive the predator off or simply draw attention to the threat. Locally nesting and resident birds are more likely to mob – perhaps because they have more at stake than passing migrants. [Repeat Pygmy-Owl toots plus scolding calls of robins, chickadees, nuthatches]
Listen again to this show — or any other — when you get BirdNote as a podcast. Sign up on our website, birdnote.org. I’m Mary McCann.
Support for BirdNote comes from the Port Aransas Tourism Bureau. Home to hundreds of species of birds and the Whooping Crane Festival in February. More at VisitPortAransas.com.
Calls of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Pygmy Owl recorded by G.A. Keller, Black-capped Chickadees by R.C. Stein, American Robins by R.S. Little, and Red-breasted Nuthatch by W.L. Hershberger.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org January 2017 / 2018 Narrator: Mary McCann
ID#010906NOPOKPLU / NOPO-01b-2010-01-16-MM